Demanding Jobs with Little Agency

November 8, 2018

The World Health Organization reports that the United States is among the most anxious nations on the planet. Our current political climate certainly contributes to this distinction, but much of our stress stems from feeling a lack of agency on the job.

Agency is the capacity to act independently and make our own free choices. This sense of agency is tightly connected to a sense of ownership. If we feel a lack of agency on the job, it can show up as not being fully engaged, holding back on challenging assumptions, and withholding the important creativity and problem-solving abilities we were hired to demonstrate.

Increased anxiety and stress are huge problems for businesses and the government. According to the American Institute of Stress, U.S. industries lose nearly $300 billion a year—or $7,500 per worker—in employee absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover and direct medical, legal and insurance fees related to workplace stress.

“While it may seem obvious that hard-charging white-collar workers are under stress, studies show that blue-collar workers—line cooks, factory workers, practical nurses—are even more vulnerable,” according to Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of The Job: Work and its Future in a Time of Radical Change. “This is because of what Ofer Sharone describes as the toxic confluence of high demand for their efforts and low control over their working lives.”

This high demand for ever-increasing productivity in a 24/7 always-on workplace combined with little control and freedom over the tasks makes for an unhealthy environment.

“Demanding jobs do not necessarily make us sick, but demanding jobs that give us no agency over what we do or the way we do it are quite likely to,” says Shell. “For growing numbers of Americans—no matter how successful—these pressures have transformed work from a source of satisfaction and pride to an anxiety-ridden bout of shadowboxing.”

So how much of this lack of agency should be blamed on the employer and how much on the employee? This is not easy to answer, but clearly there is responsibility in both.

Leaders and managers in organizations need to consider how much freedom and control they actually provide individual employees. For example, is the task well-defined with a clear understanding of what the deliverable should look like and when it should be completed? Yes. But are the steps regarding how it should be completed and delivered also predetermined yet perhaps not clearly communicated? This can undermine agency.

And how much overall tolerance is there for risk taking and trying things in a different way? If you find yourself hearing (or saying) “That’s not how we do things here,” you may find little tolerance in your organization, and this lack of tolerance also undermines agency.

Employees also have a role and they need to consider when and how to step into agency—even when they may not feel they have the right to do so. Obviously, when you’re new to the job, it’s important to first understand the established rules, norms, values and organizational culture before you can fully express agency. Many of these may actually be the culprit.

Demonstrating agency means taking responsibility and ownership when it’s clear no one else has and yet needs to happen. It means pushing back on standard operating procedures when you see the faults, have a better solution and know how to communicate and implement it. And it means requesting more control or freedom over the work when you can provide clear and compelling benefits. These not only demonstrate agency, but also leadership potential.

It often takes courage to demonstrate agency. When unsuccessful, challenging assumptions or making mistakes can sometimes damage your reputation. Tread carefully but proceed boldly.

By carefully choosing when and how to use agency, you may find you can have more success than failure. You will have more freedom and control on your job. You will reduce your overall anxiety and stress. And you will likely feel more fully engaged. All of this is good for you and your organization.

Men Abusing Power vs. Men Manning Up

September 28, 2018

The allegations against and removal of powerful men in entertainment, politics and the media has sparked increased attention on the issue of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Men abusing power in the workplace isn’t new, of course, but other men manning up to defend women seems to be especially lacking.

The unfolding drama that is Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court is reminiscent of the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill hearings 27 years ago. That event was followed by the so-called “year of the woman” in 1992. But little has changed with regard to the way many men in power treat women.

Yes, the recent #MeToo movement created a stir and helped remove powerful men such as Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly from Fox News, Travis Kalanick from Uber, Charlie Rose from PBS and CBS, and Harvey Weinstein from The Weinstein Company. Most recently, comedian Bill Cosby—once referred to as “America’s Dad”—was sentenced for three to 10 years in prison for his sexual misconduct.

On the other hand, comedian Louis C.K., who admitted to sexual misconduct of five women and fallen out of favor, has recently staged a comeback. Charlie Rose reportedly was in discussions with regard to starring in a show where he would interview other high profile men brought down by the #MeToo movement. And, of course, the current President of the United States has been accused of sexual misconduct by 22 women, yet continues to serve.

In any workplace, as long as there is a huge imbalance of men to women in leadership positions, a lack of equal pay for equal work, and the minimizing of sexual harassment claims, we cannot have a safe, equitable and thriving work environment.

According to a recent poll conducted by Pew Research Center regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, of the 6,251 people surveyed, a majority of men (55%) and nearly half of women (47%) said that “the recent developments have made it harder for men to navigate workplace interactions.”

But when it comes to sexual misconduct in the workplace, it shouldn’t be difficult to navigate workplace interactions. It is simply about respect and treating others the way you would expect to be treated—regardless of gender.

The Equality Act of 2010 defines sexual harassment as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.” This includes indecent or suggestive remarks, unwanted touching, requests or demands for sex and the dissemination of pornography.

Though there may be some cases of misunderstanding, the bottom line is demonstrating basic respect for the other person. It’s about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. And treating women in the workplace no worse than you would treat your mother, sister or daughter.

As someone who regularly encourages men and women to tweak their behavior in order to show up as better leaders, I know changing behavior is difficult. It takes concentrated effort that needs to be continually monitored and applied. Changing behavior also takes a network of others to make the most progress as well as maintain accountability. This network of other people can encourage positive steps and attest to whether there’s improvement or not.

And this is where other men come in. If there is sexual harassment in any workplace, it seems unlikely that no other male colleagues are aware of it. And because far too many men look the other way or fail to speak up, sexual harassment continues unabated in many of today’s workplaces. In the same way women are reluctant to speak up for fear of repercussions with regard to their careers, so too appear to be many men.

It takes courage to stand up to a bully. It takes courage to speak out against a fraternity of colleagues. And it takes enormous courage to call out one’s boss. But by not speaking up, standing up, and calling out sexual harassment, you are complicit in its continuation.

We live at a time far removed from a “Mad Men” workplace, but until all men begin to hold themselves, their colleagues and leaders accountable, little will change will be made for bringing true equality for women in the workplace.

As Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono said recently with regard to men in this country: “Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change.”

Knowing What You Know

September 14, 2018

In the workplace as in life, accurate information enables you to make good decisions. We collect and analyze data like never before in order to determine when and who to hire, what to sell, where to invest, how to allocate resources, and many other business decisions.

However, when we take opinions as facts or make assumptions rather than A/B test assumptions, we are more apt to make bad decisions.

It’s astounding with all the information available to us, we are so often misled into believing false information. The internet is a great tool, but when it is used merely to reinforce our assumptions, we are using it ineffectively.

Someone should develop an app that would instantly fact check our statements as we make them, so we could—at least in theory—immediately correct ourselves. This would certainly keep inaccurate information from remaining in our heads and spreading to others.

In Factfulness, global health professor Hans Rosling presents 13 multiple choice fact-based questions about our world that, on average, chimpanzees score more accurately than most people around the world. This includes teachers, eminent scientists, investment bankers, corporate executives, journalists and senior political decision makers.

Rosling discovered that chimpanzees are not smarter than educated humans, but that “actively wrong knowledge” make us score so poorly. He determined that people simply have a worldview that is outdated and yet persists. His book lists ten instincts that distort our perspective, one of which is in the way we consume media—where fear currently rules.

“If it bleeds it leads,” was the mantra back when I studied journalism years ago. That notion is still relevant today as the news is primarily negative and therefore we rarely learn when things are improving or generally positive. This may also explain why so many Americans believe violent crime is higher than ever before when, in fact, though there’s been a slight uptick recently, on average it’s been dropping for the past 30 years.

And fear is extremely powerful: it sells newspapers, encourages us to click on links, buy things we may not need, and elect politicians to high office.

The state of journalism in the internet age is focused on being fast rather than accurate, on click-worthy and titillating rather than thoughtful and reflective, and on providing raw data rather than knowledgeable content. With so many pundits presenting alternative facts, politicians claiming fake news, and many media outlets providing opinion masquerading as news, we owe it to ourselves to be more careful and selective on what we choose to trust.

“If we want to be able to tell what’s real and what’s not, we must learn to see through the haze of virtual unreality that’s settling around us, says Charles Seife, in his book Virtual Unreality. He makes a strong case for why we need to be ever vigilant for how we understand the world around us. “We must change our relationship with information, becoming more skeptical and more cynical, and arm ourselves with powerful tools to allow us to interrogate dubious facts. And we have to be willing to spend the time to do it.”

In the workplace this requires challenging those assumptions we regularly rely upon to make big decisions. It means checking multiple sources before taking action. And it means scrutinizing from where and who is providing the information.

“As our information sources tailor themselves to our prejudices, this means eschewing the chatter that reinforces our preexisting beliefs and seeking out ones that challenge us,” writes Seife. “And above all, it means that we must accept that the rules are changing, and learn how to see the world differently than we did just a few years ago.”

In order to rise above the level of chimpanzees in our decision-making, we need to take greater responsibility and resist the impulse to take information as fact. We should question our assumptions and not be afraid to change those assumptions as needed. And we must be skeptical and cautious in order to make the right business decisions.

Sharpen the Saw to Keep Your Leadership Edge

August 27, 2018

Staying Mentally Fit

With the approach of a new school year, I wanted to explore the importance of continual learning in order to maintain your leadership edge. This is about sharpening the saw to stay mentally fit.

In Stephen Covey’s classic leadership book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, habit number seven is Sharpen the Saw. The analogy he describes is that of the woodcutter who is sawing for several days straight and becoming less and less productive. The process of cutting dulls the blade, and the solution is to periodically sharpen the saw.

In this particular habit, Covey discusses renewing the four dimensions of our nature that include, the physical, social/emotional, spiritual and mental. All of them are important, of course, but it is this last one where I want to focus.

Keeping mentally sharp means staying on top of not only important daily news and information, but also studying thought leaders on any subject relevant to your business in order to continue growing your leadership capacity.

Learning Should be a Way of Life

All too often people choose to stop investing the time and energy to further their learning once they’ve finished formal education. It’s as if now that they’ve acquired the degree and found a job, there is no longer the need to continue the process of learning. But learning should be a way of life not a goal one can expect to ever complete.

Successful leaders stay on top because they keep learning. This is an intentional act, which requires discipline, curiosity and the humility of the “beginner’s mind.”

What I’ve found in my study of leadership is that the best leaders are those who are driven to learn throughout their careers. This can be found in many ways, such as:

  • Read lots of books. The best CEOs read on average four to five books a month while the average person reads only two to three each year. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk, Mark Cuban are all voracious leaders who make time to read every day.
  • Get training or coaching. There isn’t any leader who couldn’t become a better communicator, presenter, motivator or listener. Those who want to improve these and other skills are the ones who seek out training or coaching.
  • Hold back opinions. When leaders have an idea before a meeting, the best are able to hold back on presenting them until everyone else has had a chance to weigh in. They are more interested in bringing the best ideas forward regardless of whether it is their own.
  • Ask the right questions. In the course of trying to determine the right decision, it is not so much talking about the challenges and the opportunities as it is asking the right questions of the right people to learn how best to move forward. The best leaders recognize their role is asking the right questions at the right time.
  • Listen really well. The best leaders don’t just ask the right questions, they also take the time to hear what is spoken and continue probing for what is not yet said. At a time when people are expected to get to the point quickly, sometimes simply asking “and what else?” can bring forth the most important things to consider.
  • Remain open to new ideas. The older I get the more I realize how little I really know. There is an overwhelming amount of information out there and this requires a certain humility for continued intellectual growth. The best leaders are those who are open to what they do not know and remain curious to know more.

Learning began with your first breadth as a newborn and it should remain your mindset throughout life. This is because only through lifelong learning can you continually sharpen the saw to attain and keep your intellectual edge.

Manager as Coach

August 16, 2018

Making progress at something personally meaningful is the most powerful and motivating condition you can have at work. As a manager in charge of others, you should develop your coaching skills in order to help them experience this progress.

According to research, the single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching. And all managers—like directors and senior executives—are now expected to coach their direct reports.

However, while 73 percent of managers had some form of coaching training, according to research in 2006 from the leadership development firm BlessingWhite, only 23 percent of those being coached thought that the coaching had a significant impact on their performance or job satisfaction. Ten percent stated that the coaching they were getting was actually having a negative effect.

Clearly there’s a need to improve the quality of coaching training if managers want their coaching of others to be effective.

Managers may think they are coaching when they are simply teaching and advising. Or they may use the term “coaching” loosely, such as in describing any interaction with employees.

Coaching skills that are directive include teaching, providing feedback and offering suggestions. Non-directive coaching skills are about asking the right questions and listening. This non-directive approach with coaching is more challenging because it is about helping the individual solve his or her own problem.

Busy managers may find it hard to use non-directive skills as it takes longer and requires more patience. However, effective coaching requires exactly this in order to help employees develop the self-confidence and ability to solve problems on their own.

Another essential element to coaching is adopting a different mindset. Rather than be the natural problem solver that you are to get things done quickly, it’s important to let go of your assumptions, slow down and seek to understand the other’s perspective.

Ask probing questions that encourage your employee to explain the situation, the desired outcome and the potential steps for getting there. Learn to listen really well so you can encourage him or her and ask clarifying questions at the right time. Because when you ask good questions, your employee is empowered to believe he or she has the ability to find the answer. In addition, this employee will be more committed to the solution and more likely to fully implement it.

GROW

The GROW Model can be an effective and simple framework for structuring a coaching conversation. This model was originally developed in the 1980s by business coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine and Sir John Whitmore. The GROW acronym stands for:

 

  • Goal – Determine a SMART Goal that your employee is looking to develop. Ask probing questions to help determine if this is in fact the right goal for this person at this time.
  • Current Reality – Ask your employee to describe the situation. Questions can include: What is happening now (who, what, when, how)? What steps have you taken so far?
  • Options (or Obstacles) – Explore what to do next, but let him or her speak before offering your ideas. Ask: What else could you do? What are the pros and cons of that?
  • Will (or Way Forward) – This is about motivation, commitment and accountability. Ask: How will you remain motivated? When can we review your progress?

 

It’s important to follow these in succession in order for the model to be most effective. And remember to maintain this as a conversation so you can continue to build trust and learning is most likely to take place.

Finally, coaching should be done as a normal part of your interactions with direct reports. Look for coaching opportunities when he or she comes to you with an issue or problem to be solved. Instead of helping to solve the problem, help the individual learn to solve it on their own as way towards making progress on something meaningful to them.

Developing the non-directive skills of asking the right questions and listening well, altering your mindset and using the GROW Model will help you build your coaching skills as a manager.

Being Busy vs. Being Productive

July 12, 2018

On any given workday I find myself continually distracted because I’m multitasking—constantly switching from one task to another: writing an email while listening to the radio, answering a phone call while responding to a text, thinking about a particular client issue while the kids bicker in the background.

It’s not unusual for me to have five browser windows open and I’m often reading three or more books at any given time. And, as someone who works out of a home office, there’s the dog, the doorbell, and various other interruptions.

Little wonder it’s so difficult to remain focused on the task at hand. With the implied urgency of the text alert, the phone ringing, the dog barking, what is urgent has surpassed what is important. And that is a huge problem.

Turns out it is possible to maintain focus if you can sort through what is important and urgent. Then decide what can be planned out, what can be delegated to others, and what can be dropped because it is neither urgent or important.

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important,” according to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This quote has evolved into what is called the Eisenhower Box.

The most productive people I know and admire are not those who are super busy, but those who are super focused. Their ability to tune out the noise in order to concentrate on what is most important is truly remarkable and admirable.

These are people who are disciplined to make the time and space for important and urgent things. They schedule when to do the important yet not necessarily urgent work and they follow up on it. They are willing and able to delegate that which is urgent, yet not important for them to do themselves. And they are people who eliminate tasks that are not important or urgent.

Years ago I read Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek. I also learned that multitasking actually prevents us from being truly productive. Nevertheless, it is rare that I make the time and clear the space for truly focused work. When I do, however, I am rewarded with the accomplishment of completing urgent and important things. This takes a great deal of discipline to maintain.

No matter what you do for a living and who employs you, it is the important and urgent work where you need to focus your time and energy. To do this it’s necessary to filter out that which you can decide when to do later, delegate what others can do for you, and delete whatever is unnecessary because it is neither important or urgent.

Being Busy vs. Being Productive

I recently put into place a plan for those things that are important yet not urgent such as responding to emails, writing blog posts and walking the dog. As an independent consultant, it’s a bit more difficult for me to delegate, nevertheless, I now enlist family and friends to share in the responsibility for urgent tasks in my personal life. These include shuttling the kids, shopping for and preparing meals, and planning trips. And I’ve dropped my Facebook account, greatly reduced my internet browsing, and refrained from obsessively consuming news.

All of these have enabled me the time and space for work that is truly important and urgent. Of course, it takes discipline to maintain this and there’s a tendency to retreat back to other tasks because it can be very satisfying to be busy and to check off accomplishments.

The important and urgent work is often harder. It’s like work that is strategic versus tactical. Strategy is much more important, yet less likely to be appreciated and satisfying because the results and rewards are not immediately apparent. Tactical work is more tangible and evident to ourselves and others. Delayed gratification is necessary for strategic work.

If you want to be more productive, you need to first determine what things are important and urgent. Then by deciding, delegating and dropping the rest, you will find that you have created the time and space for the important and urgent work.

Stop being so busy that you are unable to focus on what is urgent and important in order to be most productive.

Women in Leadership

June 21, 2018

Though some may want to deny it, men and women are judged differently when it comes to obtaining leadership roles in the workplace. This judgment is due to many reasons, but confirmation bias, a preference for promotional skills, and the acceptance of risk-taking and certainty in men but not in women all may play a role. Both men and women need to help change this.

According to the Center of American Progress, although women hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, they lag substantially behind men when it comes to representation in leadership positions. Consider:

  • Just 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs are women.
  • Women represent 20 percent of boards of directors in these companies.
  • Only 20 percent of the U.S. Congress is represented by women.
  • Though the U.S. ranks first in women’s educational attainment on the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Index of 144 countries, it ranks 26th in women’s economic participation and opportunity and 73rd in women’s political empowerment.

Women have outnumbered men on college campuses in the U.S. since 1988. They earned at least one-third of law degrees since 1980 and accounted for one-third of medical school students by 1990. Yet they have not moved up to positions of prominence and power in America to be commensurate with these statistics.

In a broad range of fields, women in leadership positions, top leadership positions—as equity law partners, medical school deans and corporate executives—remains stuck at 10 to 20 percent.

So why does this inequality persist? Three things to consider:

Confirmation Bias
According to a recent New York Times article titled “Picture a Leader. Is She a Woman?”, researchers found that when adults were asked to draw a picture of a leader, both men and women drew the leader as a man.

Nilanjana Dasgupta, professor of Psychological & Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, found that when we “process information through the lens of stereotype” our interpretation may be “consistent with stereotyped expectations rather than objective reality.” People who are consistently exposed to leaders who fit one profile will be more likely to notice leaders who continually fit that same profile. Dasgupta says this is how the self-reinforcing confirmation bias cycle works.

The more we repeat a false narrative of leadership as more masculine in our workplace, education, media, parenting and daily life, the more this perception persists. It is up to each of us then to recognize when we are promulgating this confirmation bias and resist it.

Promotional Skills
“Managing a team superbly ultimately proves you have great skills as a manager,”
says executive coach Carlos Martin. “But building strong outside networks is a promotional skill aimed at getting recognition for the larger organization. So while women are honing their management skills and sending the message that they’re wonderful managers, their male colleagues are busy building promotional skills and sending the message that they’re terrific promoters.”

Those in positions of power often see these promotional skills as more important for the organization as a whole and therefore those exhibiting them are more worthy of a leadership role. We could debate the qualities of management vs. leadership, but it’s clear that those in positions of power need to recognize these management skills as foundational to leadership. And it is equally clear that women need to accept these promotional skills as an important leadership quality, and seek to further develop them.

Risk-Taking & Certainty
Martin also found through psychometric surveys and coaching data suggesting that among those at the executive level, men are more likely to be rewarded for daring and risk-taking, while their women counterparts are more likely to be rewarded for precision and correctness.

And a study at the Harvard Business School titled “Who Gets Heard and Why” found that women are more likely than men to downplay their certainty when they speak. Many women adopted this habit, since certainty is often interpreted as arrogance in women.

Women tend to fear getting tagged with this trait with good reason as women perceived as arrogant are often viewed in highly negative terms, whereas arrogance in men is often interpreted with confidence and boldness. Is it possible for us to encourage women to speak with certainty without attaching arrogance to it?

Whether it’s confirmation bias, the preference for promotional skills, or seeing risk-taking and certainty as positives for men alone, we continue to undermine efforts for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles.

Research has shown that, when being considered for a promotion, women are more likely to be evaluated based on their contribution, while men are more likely to be evaluated based on their potential. This notion of potential is, of course, nebulous and highly subjective often resulting in a less qualified man getting the job.

My own daughter enters college next fall and plans to major in a male-dominated field of study. My hope is that as she proves herself worthy in obtaining her bachelor’s degree, she will enter the workplace four years from now with equal opportunities for leadership. And that her gender will not diminish her skills and expertise in order to reach her full potential.

Leadership and the To-Don’t List

May 9, 2018

At some point in our careers we have to face the fact that it may not be our lack of skills, experience or overall accomplishments, but specific behaviors that may prevent us from getting promoted to a higher position.

What often defines those who are able to rise to the ranks of leadership is the self-awareness to recognize how certain behaviors are holding them back and the courage to do something about them. Though these behaviors may have helped you get to where you are, they may be the very things holding you back from going further.

It’s not so much what you do, but what you need to stop doing, according to leadership coach and author Marshall Goldsmith.

“The higher you go in the organization, the more your problems are behavioral,” according to Goldsmith and Mark Reiter in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. “The higher you go, the more your issues are behavioral.”

And changing one’s behavior is extremely difficult. Consider new year’s resolutions, exercise commitments and diets that don’t lead to successful outcomes.

As a leadership coach, I work with those in—or hoping to reach—leadership positions, and most often it is not a lack of business or technical skills, but certain behaviors that are holding them back. And often it is not so much things they aren’t doing, but things they need to stop doing.

The great management consultant and author Peter Drucker said: We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend nearly enough time teaching them what to stop.

In every performance review, employees should learn what they are seen as doing well and should continue doing; what they are not yet doing and should begin doing; and finally what they are doing, but should stop doing. For whatever reason, this last one often gets left off unless the behaviors are especially egregious.

This gets us to the To Don’t list. Unlike the To-Do list, the To Don’t list should include behaviors you need to stop doing as they are undermining your performance and your ability to grow in your leadership potential. This list should certainly contain items brought up in your performance review because they are the most obvious to your supervisor. But they may not be as obvious to your supervisor or called out in a way that can be helpful to you.

One way to compile this To Don’t list would be to review feedback from performance reviews, 360 assessments, and other ways you have been evaluated. Look for themes and consider not simply dismissing those items that you don’t consider important to change.

Take for example sarcasm. This is a trait that can come across to many as funny and perhaps lighten the mood in certain situations. Sarcasm is actually a passive-aggressive form of communication that can undermine trust. If your identity is associated with sarcasm, you might consider how this may undermine your ability to be seen as a leader.

Though you may claim that sarcasm or another behavior is just who you are and can’t be that bad if it’s gotten you this far. Consider that certain traits that may not have been a problem in getting to this point are actually preventing you from rising higher because leadership has different demands and requires different behaviors.

This can be things like speaking instead of listening, commanding instead of inspiring, making excuses instead of owning up, or clinging to the past rather than letting go that prevent would-be leaders from rising to the C-suite.

It’s worth taking the time to make your To Don’t list and treat it as importantly as you do your To Do list. First identify and write down those behaviors you wish to change. Then focus on changing them. And in the same way you are more likely succeed with your exercise or diet, enlist others to provide encouragement, support and hold you accountable.

When Saying No Gets You to Yes

April 17, 2018

Recently I helped my daughter choose an elective class for high school and when I suggested drawing, she said that although she likes to draw, she’s not very good at it. The fact that my 13-year-old is already doubting her creative abilities is disheartening enough, but it got me thinking about how important it is to say yes to things that may intimidate or scare us, especially when we are young. Read more

The Need for Moral Leadership

March 30, 2018

Every leader faces crossroad moments where he or she must choose between the most expedient, popular and/or profitable versus what can only be labeled as the morally correct choice. Far too often, however, leaders choose the former.

Take for example Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose company recently admitted that Cambridge Analytica, a firm that worked on behalf of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, misused Facebook users’ personal information gathered to target U.S. voters.

When Zuckerberg first learned of the data breach and was told Cambridge Analytica deleted the information of these 50 million users, why did he simply accept this on faith rather than verify with a thorough audit?

Facebook has seen a barrage of criticism for its failure to protect user data, the #DeleteFacebook movement continues to grow and their stock plunged 18 percent this week.

Instead of doing the right thing when he first learned third party companies were misusing user information, Zuckerberg said little and left the public wondering if Facebook’s growth-at-all-costs mentality means his company should no longer be trusted.

WIRED magazine’s Jessi Hempel recently wrote: “If Zuckerberg wants us to believe now that his company is not vulnerable, he must shore up trust in himself as an individual. It’s his only way forward.”

However, as the saying goes, trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair. Why would Zuckerberg or the leader of any organization risk a breach of trust?

Doing the morally correct thing requires looking beyond the expedient, popular or profitable when those are in contrast with what is considered the right thing to do. This requires putting people before profits. It requires putting customers before shareholders. It requires working in the best interest of those you serve. And it requires courage.

Ultimately, a moral leader is someone who leads to serve. What distinguishes moral leaders from ordinary leaders is that these leaders prioritize other peoples’ needs.

Yet leaders often find it hard to exercise moral agency due to the often ambiguous and conflicting expectations of the stakeholders to whom they answer.

Corporate leaders are too often judged primarily on quarterly earnings rather than the long term viability of the company. This hyper-focus on the near term to satisfy Wall Street is often at odds with building a sustainable corporation that delivers customer value and a desirable workplace.

Even non-profit leaders can get sidetracked if their mission is no longer in sync with the people they serve. Executive Directors are expected to provide greater outcomes with fewer resources, while board members challenge them to cut corners further.

And due to minimal regulation on money in politics, our representatives in government cannot be counted on to serve in our best interests when those with a louder voice (i.e., more financial contributions) will always have their interests served first.

It used to be that when leaders were caught lying there was a huge outcry resulting in severe consequences. Maybe due to the fact that the current President of the United States tells on average 5.5 lies every single day we have become immune to or at least more accepting of liars. The President has even convinced his followers that they should no longer believe anything because it’s all fake news.

Perhaps there’s reason for hope: At Harvard Business School, professor Sandra Sucher teaches a course that draws on the inspiration of literary and historical figures such as Machiavelli, Conrad, Shackleton and Achebe in order to encourage greater empathy and understanding. The novels, plays and biographies students read and discuss provide rich examples of moral dilemmas with a larger context than business case studies can provide.

Tylenol Extra-Strength cyanide-laced capsules resulted in the deaths of seven people in the Chicago-area back in 1982.  Johnson & Johnson chairman, James Burke, immediately formed a seven-member strategy team and his guidance on the strategy was first, “How do we protect the people?” and second “How do we save this product?” The order of these priorities was paramount to the successful future of the product and company.

People before product. People before profits. Moral leadership is about keeping these things in the right order.

Organizational Resiliency: Failing Forward

March 13, 2018

Emphasizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses is common not only for individuals, but for organizations as well. A relentless focus on success is certainly easier and more enjoyable, but at what cost is the unwillingness to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes?

Every individual and organization regularly fails. It is inevitable and it is absolutely necessary on the pathway to growth. Far too many of us, however, refuse to learn from or even acknowledge these mistakes or misfires.

Yet those individuals who do accept and take accountability for their weaknesses and mistakes are much more likely to learn how to overcome them. And organizations who are able to see the value that comes from acknowledging them and being accountable for them are likely to become more resilient and thrive.

“To be resilient after failures, we have to learn from them,” write Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in their book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. “We’re too insecure to admit mistakes to ourselves or too proud to admit them to others. Instead of opening up, we get defensive and shut down. A resilient organization helps people overcome these reactions by creating a culture that encourages individuals to acknowledge their missteps and regrets.”

Creating a culture that is not only willing to discuss mistakes and failures, but actively encourages the organization to open up and truly learn from them is one that is resilient. And this organizational resilience is at the heart of learning.

“When it’s safe to talk about mistakes, people are more likely to report errors and less likely to make them,” write Sandberg and Grant. “Yet typical work cultures showcase successes and hide failures.”

To highlight successes and hide weaknesses may make sense when individuals are applying for a job or organizations are trying to appeal to customers and shareholders. However, when it comes to effectively operating inside the organization, the need to acknowledge our failures and learn from them is profoundly important.

“Our observations have led us to believe that, just as individuals can learn to develop personal traits of resilience, so too can organizations develop a culture of resilience,” according to George S. Everly, Jr. in his 2011 article “Building a Resilient Organizational Culture” in Harvard Business Review.

“While human resilience may be thought of as a personality trait, in the aggregate, groups, organizations, and even communities can learn to develop a ‘culture of resilience’ which manifests itself as a form of ‘psychological immunity’ to, or the ability to rebound from, the untoward effects of adversity.”

Everly concludes that self-efficacy or the belief in one’s agency and the ability to be a catalyst for change along with optimism can form a powerful framework for building a resilient organization.

As one former Google executive explained to me, what they try to do at Google is rather than simply fail fast, it’s important to learn early and often. The anonymous quote comes to mind: Failure is not an option. It’s a privilege for those who try.

Organizational leaders must demonstrate to their employees that because failure is inevitable, it must be acknowledged and accepted. Failure and mistakes are only detrimental when they are repeated because learning did not take place.

Next time you make a mistake or fail in the workplace, make a point of publicly acknowledging it, then state what you learned and how you will ensure it won’t happen again. Though this will take courage and demand making yourself vulnerable, you will make it safer for others to do so in the future. You will also undoubtedly rise in your stature as a leader because you are doing what’s right for your professional growth as well as the growth of your organization.

The Gift of Being Heard

March 1, 2018

In this age of extraordinary technological advances and accelerating change, our ability to effectively communicate has diminished severely. This is partly because we are not equally focused on sending and receiving messages. And we don’t listen in a way that demonstrates that the other is being heard.

Despite the many powerful ways we have to connect, our ability to do this well has suffered. Think about how often you text when you really should talk. Or you choose email when you should call because your message requires some back and forth discussion.

Every new technology has to find its ideal purpose and this usually takes some trial and error. Remember when people faxed in their pizza orders? Just because we can text or email, doesn’t mean we should use them constantly and expect success in our communication.

As I wrote in a previous post, these “asynchronous communication vehicles have become the default way for far too many of us to interact with others.” Texting, emailing, and tweeting are all very effective for sending information. But when it comes to topics that are sensitive, require establishing trust or back-and-forth discussion, using the phone or meeting face-to-face is best.

We have become so focused on sending our perspectives, thoughts, feelings, selfies and the latest emojis that we are no longer as receptive to the other side of the communication equation: receiving. While we may feel confident that the content of our message was received, perhaps not the full sentiment.

However, when we can equally focus on the receiving end of a message, we can begin to engage in meaningful dialogue. We can enable true reciprocity. We can immediately see and/or hear the impact our message had on the receiver. And we can immediately respond in a way that effectively continues to move the conversation forward.

When you experience a communication breakdown in a message you initiate, it could be due to the receiver being confused or misunderstanding your intention because you’ve chosen the incorrect medium. If the receiver of your message can’t accurately interpret what you intended, the communication can fail—often miserably.

One reason is that we make a lot of assumptions in our interactions with others, and these assumptions often get in the way of successful communication. With texting and emailing, assumptions are more challenging to combat due to the fact that verifying them requires more back and forth that can seem to slow down the conversation. The nuance of effective communication—even for the most gifted writers—is often missing in text-only communication.

Being a good receiver in communication means you provide the sender with the gift of being heard—very difficult to do via text and email.  And this gift is all too rare these days. If you are able to give it to others, you will be appreciated and likely gain respect from your colleagues and affection from your family and friends.

One of the benefits of calling or talking face-to-face is you can immediately check on assumptions in order to eliminate any anxiety or confusion. You are also likely to pick up non-verbal clues based on tone of voice, facial expressions and body language that can help you determine whether there is congruence between what is being said and how they look and act when saying it.

Don’t underestimate your intuitive power of reading the sender of the message. You are able to pick up many things above and beyond the words. And this is missing in your texts and emails—no matter how many emojis and photo attachments may be included.

Communicating better requires you to become a better listener. This means really focusing on what the other person is trying to communicate. Whenever possible, ensure discussions that warrant it are face-to-face or by phone, and then provide the other person the gift of being heard.

Success in Difficult Conversations

February 8, 2018

In our work lives as in our personal lives we encounter situations that demand initiating difficult conversations. These conversations are not easy, but shouldn’t be avoided because that can often make things worse.

As much as the conflict avoider in us may want to run in the other direction, those who are able to courageously confront the situation are likely to push through the discomfort and grow from it. In addition, the relationship that is demanding the difficult conversation will most likely move forward.

A difficult conversation results when two or more people have: 1) a difference of opinion, perspective, needs or wants; 2) feelings or emotions are strong; 3) consequences or the stakes are high for at least one person. When you’re in a difficult conversation, you may find:

  • There is little safety between participants
  • Emotions are defining the conversation
  • Very little listening is taking place
  • Participants are aiming for a win/lose scenario
  • Participants may be playing a role: victim, aggressor, martyr, etc.

Obviously, this can result in a highly stressful environment. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Use the following steps to be at your best when initiating a difficult conversation:

Stay Calm
Breathe. Try to be present of what you are feeling and what it is you want. If possible, try to determine what the other person may be feeling and wanting. And when you begin the conversation, be certain to communicate your intent up front in order to provide safety for the other person.

Shift Your Perspective
Rather than focus on how difficult the conversation is going to be, try to think of it as a constructive conversation. By initiating this constructive conversation, you are demonstrating the value the relationship has for you. Keep in mind that this is an investment of your time and emotional energy that will benefit you as well as the relationship.

Make a Plan
Have a clear idea of the points you want to make, but don’t write out a script. You should be able to summarize both your perspective as well as the other’s. If you are uncertain of the former, you need to figure it out before initiating the conversation. If you are uncertain of the latter, you should provide ample opportunity at the beginning of the conversation to better understand this. Be careful of assumptions you are making as these can so often derail any conversation, and are especially dangerous when emotions are high.

Prepare to Actively Listen
This means listening to the other person in a way that ensures he or she feels heard. Being an active listener means you make a conscious effort to truly hear what the other person is saying—in their words as well as their body language. Practice holding off thinking about how to respond or interrupting until you have thoroughly heard what they are saying.

Be Compassionate and Demonstrate Empathy
Consider how it may feel to be on the other end of this conversation. Be respectful while they take in what may be very difficult for them to hear. Convey in your words, tone and body language that you truly care for how the other person feels about what it is you are saying. Try to get comfortable with the awkward silence that may result.

Seek a Win-Win Conclusion When Possible
In most cases a successful difficult conversation doesn’t result in a winner and a loser. Therefore, seek out an amicable resolution to the conflict in a way that is satisfying to both parties. This is not always possible, of course, but even when you have to convey bad news such as a job dismissal, see if there is a way to soften the news. Perhaps it is simply providing information about out-placement services, severance package, a solid reference, etc.

Reflect & Learn
When the conversation is over, take a moment to reflect on what went well and what not so well. What could you have said better or differently? There are certainly things outside of your control in a heated conversation and you will need to maintain your boundaries. Don’t take on guilt for the other person’s negative reaction to your news. This requires courage and you will likely be fortified the next time you need to have a difficult conversation.

In order to have a constructive difficult conversation, the steps above should help you navigate them more successfully. In most cases, your efforts are likely to improve the relationship and build your skill at navigating future difficult conversations.

“Twenty years of research involving more than 100,000 people reveals that the key skill of effective leaders, teammates, parents and loved ones is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues,” according to the authors of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.

Start by rethinking your difficult conversation as more of a constructive conversation. Remember that whether it is with your family members, friends or co-workers you are directly confronting an issue that has stifled the relationship. Though it is not easy to do, the result of your efforts—in most cases—will move the relationship forward and build-up a powerful skill in you as a leader.

More (Positive) Feedback Please

January 11, 2018

Feedback. We all want it and perhaps those in the Millennial generation crave it more than most. But is anything less than positive feedback really appreciated and effective at bringing out our best performance?

Years ago I wrote a blog post titled Six Tips to Successfully Deliver Employee Feedback where I suggested “. . . if we are doing something not so well, we want to know what this is and especially how to correct it. Don’t underestimate a person’s level of resilience because such feedback loops are vital to their continued growth.”

But in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, an article titled Negative Feedback Rarely Leads to Improvement by Paul Green, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Business School, found that critical feedback from coworkers drove employees to adjust their roles to be around people who would provide more positive reviews. That is, when feedback was what they term “disconfirming,” the test subjects would seek others to provide “confirming feedback.”

Further, he found that when the relationship was discretionary—people didn’t have to work together—the person getting the negative feedback would just move away from that person or group. When the employees had to work together, however, the recipient of the negative feedback would look to connect with other people in the company in what they termed “shopping for confirmation.”

Negative feedback doesn’t provide the sustenance we need to enable us to maintain a positive view of ourselves, according to Green.

“The idea behind performance appraisals, and feedback in general, is that to grow and improve, we must have a light shined on the things we can’t see about ourselves,” says Green. “There’s an assumption that what motivates people to improve is the realization that they’re not as good as they think they are. But in fact, it just makes them go find people who will not shine that light on them. It may not be having the intended effect at all.”

What it comes down to is whether when receiving this critical feedback, the employee feels valued or not. Delivering the feedback sandwich of “here’s what you do well, here’s what you do not so well and keep up the good work” isn’t necessarily helpful. Instead, it should be about ensuring that employees first and foremost feel secure knowing that they provide value and their contributions are generally positive. Then the employee is able to hear and respond appropriately to the critical information.

In my work as a consultant and leadership coach, I find so often it is not the salary, job title, or other external expressions of worth, but whether or not the person feels they are valued by their manager, by their peers and by the company as a whole. And, ironically, conveying this appreciation of value to an employee costs the company nothing.

In some ways, this seems to further the argument that we should focus on maximizing strengths rather than minimizing weaknesses. But I think that would be short-sighted and reduce our ability to continue to grow and learn as we advance in our careers.

Regularly acknowledging and emphasizing the value employees provide means they may be much more open to hearing critical feedback. They may then be able to separate their job performance from who they are as individuals. Then they will be able to act on the feedback with a foundation of security that enables the courage to make necessary changes.

Breaking the Silence on Complicity

December 7, 2017

On the one hand we’ve seen the recent rise in naming complicit behavior, and on the other hand the rising response that this behavior will no longer be tolerated. Yet many of our leaders remain sitting on the sidelines. Why?

The word “complicit” was recently chosen as the word of the year by Dictionary.com citing the term’s renewed relevance in U.S. culture and politics. They also noted that a refusal to be complicit has also been “a grounding force of 2017.”

Their website defines complicit as “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having complicity.” According to Thesaurus.com, the opposite of complicit is clear, forthright and honest.

Two recent examples include an SNL skit involving Ivanka Trump, and outgoing Arizona Senator Jeff Flake’s speech on the Senate floor where he told fellow Republicans regarding the President, “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.”

Complicity was found not only in the political realm, but also in society’s role for contributing to climate change, normalizing of hate speech and supremacist groups, and the tacit enabling of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Time magazine’s person of the year in 2017 is “The Silence Breakers,” referring to those women who have courageously spoken out against perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace, and the global conversation they have started. Edward Felsenthal, Time’s editor in chief, said in an interview on the “Today” show recently that the #MeToo movement represented the “fastest-moving social change we’ve seen in decades, and it began with individual acts of courage by women and some men too.”

Tarana Burke created the “Me Too” movement many years ago, but it didn’t go viral until actress Alyssa Milano urged those following her on Twitter to use the hashtag #MeToo if they had experiences of sexual harassment.

“I’ve been saying from the beginning that it’s not just a moment, it’s a movement,” Burke said in the same Today episode. “I think now the work really begins. The hashtag is a declaration. But now we’re poised to really stand up and do the work.”

The rise in the usage of the word “complicit” and American women’s courageous response in speaking out after acts of sexual harassment can serve as a catalyst towards positive change. We may one day look back at this time as a pivotal moment when leaders’ abhorrent behavior was no longer tolerated, and when powerful men across entertainment, media, politics and business were finally being held accountable.

So what are our leaders doing? Are they sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what the voters or customers decide? Are they following the advice of their crisis management consultants who tell them to hold off to see if this blows over before “getting ahead of the story.” Are they putting more pressure on their lawyers to ensure that their financial settlements hold up against future accusations?

Great leaders have integrity. They do not commit nor do they tacitly condone illegal acts and inappropriate behavior. And they speak out when they see wrong doing and stand up to their colleagues, coworkers, partners, friends and others to prevent such acts.

When others lie, deceive, cheat, mistreat women, or disparage innocent people, we must hold them accountable. This includes our bosses, colleagues, coworkers, friends and our elected officials not only for the acts themselves, but also for their complicity. And we must hold ourselves accountable as well.

Because that’s what leaders do. And whether we ourselves are leaders, want to become leaders, or just choose to follow other leaders, we must not be complicit in bad behavior.

An Attitude of Gratitude

November 21, 2017

Beyond football, eating a big meal, and gathering with extended family, Thanksgiving should be a time of, well, giving thanks. In that spirit, I want to express my gratitude for all that I am thankful for in my life.

First and foremost, I am grateful for my family, and the love and devotion they provide to help me be the best husband and father I can be. My wife and three children are the most important people in my life and, though I sometimes struggle to maintain the boundaries to honor this, I want them to know that I never forget they are my number one priority. I am also grateful to my mother, and my brothers and sisters—though we are scattered across the globe and span the political spectrum from Libertarian to Green Party—we share a common history and remain close in spirit if not in geography.

I am grateful for my friends, many of whom I have been lucky to count as such for more than thirty years. Though we are not always in sync in finding face time, I know I can count on them to keep me from falling out of touch and becoming mere “Facebook friends.” In particular, The 728 Club has been especially meaningful to me as our tradition of semi-annual adventures have sustained and fortified our steadfast friendship. I hope all my friends understand that, although I am not regularly in touch, I am grateful for the continued love and companionship they provide me.

I am grateful for my clients, who continually astound me in the growth they achieve by courageously taking behavioral risks to reach their professional goals. The satisfaction in my work is derived entirely by the level I can help them grow to reach their full potential. As an independent leadership coach and consultant, I measure my success not only by the amount of revenue I generate, but by the level of success I have in moving my clients forward. I am thankful for choosing to work with me, choosing to trust in me, and choosing to take the hard steps necessary to move forward in the growth of themselves and their teams.

I am also grateful for my failures. I know that I would not be the person I am today were I not to have failed and learned by the process. In my previous career, I was once fired from a job and was devastated. I felt the debilitating shame of not being good enough. This was the culmination of previous smaller failures, which ultimately led to some deep soul-searching with regard to who I was and who I wanted to be. In the end, I redirected my focus and embraced the messages I was given in order to redirect my career. The result is I moved beyond career and into what I consider to be my calling, which is so much more satisfying. According to author Eloise Ristad, “When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.”

I am grateful for my persistence and my patience. I am grateful for my resilience. And for following writer Anais Nin’s advice that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

I am grateful for learning to focus on abundance rather than scarcity. Grateful in embracing the somewhat paradoxical concept that true leadership requires the ability to be vulnerable. And learning that the three essentials of leadership are courage, clarity and humility.

Finally, I am grateful for you, my readers. I truly appreciate you reading these posts and hope you find value in them. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.

(Precious) Time Management

November 9, 2017

There’s not enough time. Right? We’re all too busy in our personal and professional lives to squeeze in everything to make us feel happy and successful.

But what is sucking away our precious time and how much control do we actually have over it? Turns out the answers are: 1) distractions and 2) a lot.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about how to better maximize my time in order to accomplish more, reduce my stress, and increase my overall satisfaction in life. In this pursuit, I’ve read a couple of new books that help address this.

In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less author Greg McKeown writes that the way of essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time and it’s not about getting less done. Instead it’s about getting only the right things done and challenging the assumption of “we can have it all” and “I have to do everything” and replacing it with the pursuit of “the right thing, in the right way, at the right time.”

McKeown suggests the way of the essentialist requires doing less and doing it better, so you can make the highest possible contribution in your personal and professional life.

In Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport describes deep work as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that enables you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Newport doesn’t argue that distraction is necessarily bad; instead he wants us to honor the massive benefits of focused attention.

This deep work, according to Newport, requires following four rules:

  1. Work deeply – The trend of open floorplans to engage greater collaboration and serendipitous encounters is helpful only when it includes a hub-and-spoke model where individuals can seclude themselves or their teams in areas to focus for regular long periods of uninterrupted time as well.
  2. Embrace boredom – Structure your time to reduce multitasking and your addiction to the little dopamine hits from reacting to text messages, emails, phone calls, etc. Consider an Internet Sabbath or digital detox in order to recharge yourself regularly.
  3. Quit social media – When you analyze the benefits you receive from using social media, many of us will find it is not really supporting our long term goals for productivity and happiness. Isn’t this virtual form of connection more anti-social anyway?
  4. Drain the shallows – Reduce the amount of shallow work you are currently doing that is not essential. Email is a big component and needs to be managed more effectively. Non-essential meetings are wasteful to individuals and companies. Schedule your entire day into 30 minute blocks and stick to this routine to help you focus on what’s important and eliminate much of the shallow work.

Now as a blogger who actively promotes this post via social media, I cannot justify fully quitting social media. However, I can choose to regulate how and when I interact with this tool. Simply calling social media a tool provides an important clarification regarding its overall value to me.

As an independent consultant, I should have the ability to take control over my time. But I also want to be responsive to my clients’ needs, react to new client requests, and be able to shift my schedule in order to accommodate shifts by others. On the personal side, like many of you, I have the usual demands and desires with regards to my family and friends that often run counter to my efforts to control my time.

Nevertheless, managing my time is entirely up to me and I can be successful if I choose to be intentional and disciplined. I suspect whether you work for yourself or someone else, you also have this opportunity to a large extent.

For me, managing my time effectively requires:

  • Maintain my priorities. The health and well-being of me and my family comes first. All my work and activities stem from what helps support these, and this means I can then choose how and when to attend to everything else.
  • Important and hard things first. I make time in the morning to work on the projects that require the most concentration and focus. I try to remove or delay distractions and less important tasks until later in the day.
  • 90-minute timeframes for focused work. Much like the importance of complete REM cycles when sleeping, a minimum of 90 minutes is required in order to go deep into focused attention. Keep away from multitasking as it undermines focus.
  • Take breaks to recharge. This can include the shallow work of writing and responding to emails and texts, taking phone calls as well as eating healthy meals, exercising, and chatting with co-workers.
  • Reduce web surfing and social media. In this age of distraction, we have the choice to either rule over the tools at our disposal or let them rule us. Judge for yourself whether time on these activities is helping or harming your ability to reach long term success and happiness.
  • Setting and maintaining boundaries. This is perhaps hardest for me as I want to say yes as often as possible. The trouble is I am undermining my effectiveness when I let people and projects permeate the important boundaries necessary for me to remain focused on one important thing at the expense of many other possibilities.

The older I get the more precious time becomes. I want to make the most of it and therefore I choose to be more intentional and disciplined about my time. I hope you can too.

Leaders Who Lie

October 27, 2017

Leaders who lie do not deserve our allegiance. The only reason they are able to rise and then remain in leadership positions is because those who follow them refuse to hold them accountable. And this lack of accountability undermines the overall effectiveness of the very people and the organization they serve.

Untruths. False statements. Stretching the truth. Misspeaking. Not entirely correct. Alternative facts. Why does the news media so frequently use euphemisms for the lies leaders tell? A lie by any other name is still a lie.

Despite the efforts of expensive marketing campaigns, public relations specialists, spin doctors, and dishonest spokespeople, we need to resist the temptation to simply accept the lies for anything other than what they are: a conscious and deliberate effort to deceive.

Every time we purchase a product or service from an organization with a leader who lies, we are complicit in the behavior. When we choose to work for a leader who lies to his or her employees, vendors, customers or shareholders, we are also complicit. And when we vote for and donate to elect representatives who lie to our fellow citizens, we are complicit as well.

When we refuse to hold our leaders accountable for their lies, we deserve what we get.

Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake recently announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018 declaring that he “will no longer be complicit or silent” in the face of the President’s “reckless, outrageous and undignified” behavior.  In his speech, Flake stated that Mr. Trump among other things has “flagrant disregard for truth and decency.”

The GOP largely shrugged at this announcement as well as statements by outgoing Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who accused Trump of serial lying and debasing the office of the presidency among other things.

The President of the United States of American currently tells five lies on average every single day. The tally is more 1,300 to this point in his term. And perhaps he is able to get away with it because he tells his followers what they want to hear: comforting lies rather than unpleasant truths.

False statements that are deliberately intended to deceive are lies, regardless of how often Sarah Huckabee Sanders serves up spin by saying “What the President meant by . . . “

“Trust is a function of two things: character and competence,” writes Stephen M. R. Covey in The Speed of Trust. “Character includes your integrity, your motive, your intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, your skills, your results, your track record. And both are vital.”

When we can’t trust our leaders it is due to their character and/or competence. And these two things are vital for us to be motivated to follow them.

Remaining silent or apathetic to lying leaders means they will continue to thrive. Holding them accountable will keep them from rising to or remaining in power. It’s entirely up to us.

Whether they lead an organization or a country, their effectiveness is undermined when they cannot be trusted. Those who are unwilling or unable to be honest with us deserve neither our respect nor loyalty.  Let’s not allow liars to be acceptable in leadership positions.

Courage When Leaders Abuse Power

October 11, 2017

Three prominent founder CEOs have recently been removed from their companies due to sexual misconduct. These men are Roger Ailes of Fox News, Travis Kalanick of Uber, and most recently Harvey Weinstein of the Weinstein Company. This abuse of power must stop.

Ailes and Weinstein were actually removed only after major news outlets reported the misconduct, which had begun long before yet was stifled through financial settlements with victims. Kalanick was removed after mounting allegations that he did little to stop a workplace culture that allowed for sexual harassment.

There is no acceptable reason for sexual harassment or misconduct to exist in the workplace. Yet far too many men in positions of power continue to take advantage of women. To change, it will take not only the courage of women to speak up but, perhaps more importantly, the courage of men to challenge those in power.

The misuse of power is unacceptable and these leaders should be held accountable. And the people working around them should be more courageous in stopping it. While Ailes and Weinstein both had allegations of sexual misconduct for decades, their corporate boards hesitated to make changes earlier because they feared such dynamic leaders couldn’t be adequately replaced. They put profits before people.

“Such uncertainties may explain why boards often miss the moment when a founder’s comportment goes from a foible to a liability,” as writer John Foley points out in a recent New York Times article. “Once they do, the grubby handprints are hard to scrub away.”

And when we accept sexually aggressive behavior as simply “locker room talk,” it minimizes the emotional impact and enables the potential physical harm it can lead to. If the collective community doesn’t categorically reject the behavior, it can be perceived as tacitly condoned.

“The behavior is inexcusable, but the abuse of power familiar,” wrote actress Meryl Streep in a recent statement. “Each brave voice that is raised, heard and credited by our watchdog media will ultimately change the game.”

Women already feel a sense of guilt or shame when they are put into such a position. When other women and men try to ignore or normalize it, we continue to defer taking action. The fact is, sexual harassment never was acceptable back “when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.”

Little wonder that women are not adequately represented in leadership positions throughout politics and business. When men in positions of power continue to disrespect women there can be no parity. If we don’t collectively reject and condemn sexual harassment whenever it is seen, we will never get beyond the repression of women in the workplace.

Regarding Weinstein, Lena Dunham wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed article: “His behavior, silently co-signed for decades by employees and collaborators, is a microcosm of what has been happening in Hollywood since always and of what workplace harassment looks like for women everywhere.”

She goes on to say that men need to take responsibility for this. It takes courage for the women who are victims to speak up and it takes courage from the men who remain silent. Because when you don’t speak up, you are complicit in the behavior.

Dunham is absolutely right in that we men need to hold our friends, co-workers and those in power over us accountable for the things they say and do in objectifying women. And we need to challenge their values, their language and their actions.

Let’s not sit idly by while powerful bullies take advantage of other people. Instead, stand up to the unfair and reprehensible behavior toward women in the workplace. When you see leaders abuse power by taking advantage of others, be courageous and speak out.

In the words of Albert Einstein: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”

United We Stand . . . And Kneel

September 29, 2017

There is a lot dividing us these days. Whether it’s on the national political stage or in our own local workplace, we should be wary of the wedge that seeks to separate us.

On the national level are huge issues such as health care and race relations that require thoughtful and deliberate attention with respectful communication and solution-seeking collaboration. One side will not convince the other that they are wrong. But if people on both sides—our representatives in government as well as concerned citizens—are open-minded and listen respectfully to each other, there is room for us to unite around where we agree. And that is the beginning of the compromise necessary to find sustainable solutions.

President Trump says his opposition to NFL players taking a knee has “nothing to do with race” but has to do with “respect for our country and respect for our flag.” San Francisco 49ers Eric Reid writes that the protests he and Colin Kaepernick began by taking a knee have nothing to do with the flag and that it was meant to be a respectful gesture to protest police brutality against people of color. Can we be respectful of both perspectives?

Is it possible to raise awareness with regard to racial injustice without disrespecting the flag? Is it possible to take a knee during the national anthem without having it perceived as disrespecting the flag? This requires thoughtful discussion rather than dismissiveness.

We live at a time when politicians, pundits and Russian hackers via social media bots are deliberately trying to drive a wedge between Americans to keep us from having meaningful and productive discussions. Although this has been effective in the short-term at dividing us, this is counter-productive and needs to cease in order for us to move forward.

In the workplace, far too many organizations have encouraged or ineffectively discouraged the silo mentality that so often pits one person or workgroup against another. The lack of an “organization-wide team” mentality means the competitive spirit that is so important in beating external competitors is spent internally on pitting employees against each other.

We see this in hiring and promoting practices where the policy looks equitable on the surface, yet employees know many examples of people who are hired or promoted into senior positions without necessarily playing by the rules or demonstrating integrity. We also see it when one leader is rewarded for getting results despite the negative impact he or she has had on other leaders and their teams.

To suggest we need to always find consensus and conduct business in a way that doesn’t end in disagreements and disappointments is unrealistic. Business has winners and losers. What’s important is that we find respectful ways to really hear each other in service of the best solutions—not only those from the most dominant voices.

If NFL players can spend 60 minutes hitting and tackling each other, and then at the conclusion of the game give each other a handshake or hug, I think we can learn something from them. This is called good sportsmanship. It’s something we teach our children to demonstrate at soccer games, so why don’t we as adults abide by this in the workplace?

This means attacking the problem and not the people. When there is disagreement on the best approach for solving a problem, don’t look to criticize those people with alternative plans. Instead, seek to fully understand and evaluate their position before presenting your own.

Seek first to understand and then to be understood, wrote Stephen R. Covey in his classic best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This is not meant only for senior executives, but for personal leadership at every level in the organization. Only when you are able to fully understand another’s perspective can you hope to engage in an effective conversation.

So much misunderstanding stems from our making false assumptions and being defensive or intolerant. These prevent us from being able to actively listen to each other in order to fully understand the other’s perspective.

“The purist form of listening is to listen without memory or desire,” wrote psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. When you listen with memory, you have an old agenda. And when you listen with desire, you have a new agenda that you’re going to plug into the other person. Neither is effective to fully understand and appreciate the speaker’s perspective.

In order for us to be more united whether on a national level or in the workplace, will require us to truly engaging with each other in a respectful manner. This means seeking to understand before being understood. It requires the empathy to truly place yourself in the other person’s shoes before rejecting their perspective. It means monitoring your assumptions, defensiveness and intolerance.

United we will stand, divided we will fall.

Humility in Leadership

September 14, 2017

In my work as a leadership coach, I find that clients who make the most progress reaching their full potential are those who are able to acknowledge their weaknesses, and are secure in accepting the help to overcome them. This requires humility, and growing one’s humility leads to greater leadership.

The word humility is often defined as low self-esteem, self-degradation and meekness. When adults are asked to recount an experience of humility, they will often tell a story about a time when they were publicly humiliated. The word is weighted in weakness and negativity.

Humility is ultimately about being honest: Seeing and accepting yourself for who you really are and projecting that outward. This means obtaining an accurate understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses as well as the courage and tenacity to continue to grow. Know thyself and keep a beginner’s mind.

Humility is not about self-abasement or devaluing your own worth. In fact, to be genuinely humble requires enormous self-respect, according to Bob Burg and John David Mann in their book The Go-Giver Leader: A Little Story About What Matters Most in Business. “Self-respect is where every other kind of respect comes from. Respect from others is a reflection, not the source.”

If you want respect from others, you must first respect yourself. Trust won’t come from others until you fully trust yourself. This is an important point as you cannot seek something from others that you don’t already feel on your own. As the authors point out: You can’t ask the moon to make the sun shine.

“People with humility do not think less of themselves; they just think about themselves less,” writes Ken Blanchard in his book The One Minute Manager. Humility is the very opposite of narcissism, hubris and other forms of pride.

Yet far too often, being humble—like being vulnerable—is absent from most descriptions of what makes a great leader. And you won’t find humility taught in business schools.

As I wrote in an earlier post, humility in leadership requires listening well, admitting mistakes and promoting others. In this selfie-obsessed, social media-focused time we find ourselves, it certainly seems to run counter to cultural norms. And perhaps that is exactly why we need it so desperately in our leaders.

Increasing one’s humility is a challenging process. George Washington struggled his entire life to become and stay humble. As a young man, his ego was enormous and his ambition outstripped his many accomplishments. Yet he remained vigilant in his quest for this virtue.

How can you spot a leader who is not so humble? He or she is very likely intellectually arrogant and claims to have all the answers, and may even be threatened by new information that runs counter to what they already believe.

Researchers Bradley Owens and David Hekman studied humble leadership in every area from the military to manufacturing to ministry. They concluded that the hallmark of a humble leader is his or her willingness to admit their own limitations and mistakes.

As Owens and Hekman wrote in Academy of Management Journal, “Our findings suggest that humility appears to embolden individuals to aspire to their highest potential and enables them to make the incremental improvements necessary to progress toward that potential.”

It should come as little surprise then that humble leaders of organizations have less employee turnover, higher employee satisfaction, and better overall company performance.

Humility is what pushes us to become our best selves. And that is important in your growth as a leader.

Positive Morning Routine: Why it Matters

September 1, 2017

How do you start your day? It may very well determine whether you reach your goals.

Maybe because it’s back to school time, but I’m seeing a lot of articles, blog posts and podcasts related to “what successful people do every morning.”

All of us currently have a morning routine and most of us follow it without questioning whether it is helping or hampering our efforts to reach our goals. Those who start each day with deliberate, disciplined and mindful practice could very well be more successful in life.

So if you want to realize your dreams, perhaps it’s worth the effort to begin each day with the right physical regimen, mental discipline and emotional attitude. But what should it be?

In a widely circulated video on social media, US Navy Admiral William H. McRaven says if you want to change the world, start off each day by making your bed. This little task provides you with the motivation throughout the day for accomplishing other tasks. And, even when your day doesn’t go so well, he says you will always have the satisfaction of at least going to sleep in a well-made bed.

Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, recommends the following tweaks to your morning routine in order to be more productive throughout the day:

  • Drink lemon water
  • Exercise or mediate before eating
  • Eat a healthy breakfast
  • Set realistic and achievable goals for the day

On this last one, Bradberry says research has shown that having concrete goals is directly correlated with huge increases in confidence and feelings of being in control. And it’s important that these goals are not vague, but specific to each day as it puts everything into motion.

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, practices these five items that help him win the day:

  • Make your bed
  • Mediate (10 – 20 minutes)
  • Do 5 to 10 reps of something (less than 60 seconds)
  • Prepare and drink Titanium Tea
  • Write Morning Pages or 5-minute journal

In these Morning Pages, Ferriss suggests responding to the following prompts: “I am grateful for . . . , What would make today great?, and Daily Affirmations: I am . . .“ In the evening, he suggests answering the following: “3 amazing things happened today and How could I have made today better?” This intentional practice can help you focus in the morning and reflect at the end of each day.

Whether you are prepared to switch from coffee to lemon water or Titanium Tea is really beside the point. What’s vital is that you embrace the importance of your approach to each morning in order to facilitate just how productive you’ll be the rest of the day. And you can choose to embrace a discipline that will help you reach your goals.

Perhaps the most fundamental aspect is to ensure you are getting a good night’s rest. This cannot be emphasized enough. If you are not getting enough sleep, you will not be motivated to stick to any routine and you will likely be depleted of the vital energy you need no matter how much caffeine you consume.

Healthy Breakfast

The next should be a given: the most important meal of the day. You must fuel your body with appropriate nutrition to sustain your body until your next meal. You may protest that you don’t have time to prepare and eat a healthy breakfast, and therefore are able to rationalize that at least that Starbucks organic scone is much better than a Crispy Crème glazed donut. The reality is some foods will lift you up and sustain you while others only give you a quick dopamine hit and then leave you flat. Making the time for and choosing the healthier option is your choice.

Exercise/Meditation

Though I don’t feel like exercising in the morning, I’m a strong believer that exercise needs to be routine in order for it to become a habit. Putting it first in the morning ensures it doesn’t get put off or neglected. And by getting your blood pumping in the morning, you will have the vital energy and positive attitude you need to be most productive throughout the day. Gentle yoga or meditation can provide a similar boost without the physical exhilaration you find with a more rigorous workout.

Mindfulness

This could be simply acknowledging what you are truly grateful for at this particular time. Rather than rushing into organizing your brain around your responsibilities and tasks for the day, take the time to acknowledge and, if at all possible, express your gratitude to those to whom you are grateful. Then contemplate how you would approach this day if you knew it was the last day of your life. How can you live more deliberately and mindfully?

When you first wake up you set the tone for how you will approach the day. The more this becomes a positive routine, the more likely you are to maintain it. You may not feel the full effects of it for weeks, but eventually you will begin to notice that your body feels better and your overall disposition is working in your favor rather than against you.

And it may be as simple as making your bed.

Personal Integrity in Leadership

August 17, 2017

Now that the President’s manufacturing council has disbanded following a wave of defections, it’s worth exploring how personal integrity fits into leadership. At what point should a leader remove him- or herself from a situation where they feel their moral code is being challenged?

One could argue that with the exception of Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, who was the first to resign after President Trump’s tepid response to what transpired in Charlottesville, VA last weekend, those who resigned after him may have calculated the pros and cons of remaining on the council and chose to leave only after it was determined it would not negatively affect their corporate interests.

Many members of the advisory group stood with the president even as he advanced policies they vehemently opposed. One could argue that with both Trump’s ban on immigration from the Middle East (Uber’s Travis Kalanick) and the decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord (Tesla’s Elon Musk and Disney’s Bob Iger) CEOs who resigned from the manufacturing council or strategic and policy forum were taking a stand that was more directly related to their corporate interests than personal conscience.

But at what point should we expect our leaders to stand up for principles above profits? When should they put corporate values above shareholder value?  When should concern for Americans in general be more important than an organization’s products or services?

I believe Mr. Frazier answered this question very well.

“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” Mr. Frazier said in a statement on Monday. “As CEO of Merck, and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

It’s unfortunate the President chose to respond to this with a tweet essentially belittling Mr. Fraizer’s integrity by changing the subject and attacking his company over drug pricing.

In a way it’s also unfortunate that it took the only African-American member on the council to resign before others chose to follow suit. How can any leader with integrity passively condone statements that run counter to who they are as individuals? I believe this “personal conscience” should actually help guide the decision-making of those leading our organizations.

Leadership requires a level of personal integrity that employees, customers and shareholders can all rely upon. When leaders take a stand against what conflicts with their personal conscience, they courageously hold true to who they are. This personal choice to hold themselves to consistent moral and ethical standards is vital as they lead large organizations. And it is what separates great leaders from others.

When business leaders see it as morally compromising to take part on a President’s council, it is extremely important that they take a stand because they are in a position to do so. The leadership they demonstrate transcends quarterly financial reports. It is about personal integrity and that defines great leadership.

Now if only our Republican representatives could demonstrate the same kind of leadership.

The Value of Organizational Values

July 6, 2017

In personal relationships we tend to choose others who share our values—regardless of whether they are friends or romantic interests. This is because values help define who we are and what we stand for. When this is shared between yourself and another, it provides the foundation to maintain a solid relationship both can depend on.

In politics, Democrats and Republicans might make a lot more progress if they were to identify and build upon what values they share in common. Our representatives in congress should seek out and build upon what their constituents share in common with the constituents of other representatives in order to make progress. The process of differentiating oneself from one’s opponent may work well in campaigning, but it is detrimental to effective governing.

In any organization, values define what it stands for, how it makes decisions, conducts business and the type of people it seeks to attract—customers, partners and employees.

All too often I see an organization’s corporate values clearly displayed on a website, but not truly embraced in the way its people function. This is not only bad for the bottom line, it’s bad for attracting the right talent.

Core values should support the company’s vision and shape the culture. That’s because values are the very essence of a company’s identity, its principles and beliefs. These values should not be defined in haste nor should they be so generic or fluffy that they don’t really mean anything.

The best values are those that are unique and demonstrated so often that they are embodied rather than simply memorized.

Core values can be an important differentiator and build a more solid brand. They can:

  • Enable better decision-making with regard to partnerships, employee engagement, quality standards, customer satisfaction, etc. The more values are integrated into the decision-making process, the easier it is to make hard choices.
  • Educate partners and customers so they are able to invest in an organization that is aligned with their own values. Social media is building brand awareness like never before and, with so many options, today’s consumers will choose products and services from those companies who they can identify with most closely.
  • Help recruit the right employees because they can see that these corporate values are congruent with who they are as individuals. This alignment is becoming increasingly important as Millennials are seeking much more than a paycheck in their careers.

Placing an emphasis on core values will improve every aspect of business, but only if these values are meaningful, fully demonstrated and embraced by every employee. Make an effort to ensure your organization’s values are the right ones and that they are more than mere words on a website.